STATE COLLEGE, PA — So a soil guy, tillage radish developer and an organic grain craftsman meet at a conference. If you use your rural imagination a good joke might be in the offering. When it comes to discussing the attributes of healthy soils and fertility to a packed house of farmers, it’s no laughing matter for the three Microbe-teers.
NRCS Conservation Agronomist Ray Archuleta from Greensboro, NC; cash crop/vegetable farmer and founder of Cover Crop Solutions, Steve Groff from Lancaster, PA and grain farmer and co-owner of Lakeview Organic Grain, Klaas Martens from Penn Yan, NY, led an all-day pre-conference track titled: Agroecology Principles & Biomimicry Strategies for Enhancing Soil Function at the 24th annual Farming for the Future PASA Conference.
The Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) signature event and main vehicle for community building is widely regarded as the best of its kind in the East. This event brings together an audience of over 2,000 farmers, processors, consumers, students, environmentalists and business and community leaders to learn and network over the 3-day experience.
Soil Ray didn’t disappoint as he used his infectious enthusiasm, salesmanship and erosion-measuring props to give attendees a glimpse at what happens without soil cover and biology. “We as land stewards need to address the raindrops first, not the runoff or buffer system,” said Archuleta. He jokingly added, “When farmers get stuck, they then get more in touch with their soil.”
He presented a myriad of slides and videos in understanding soil function, soil “glues” and the importance of providing enough food and shelter to build microbe and earthworm populations. He talked extensively about soil infiltration using cover crop mixtures to stimulate diverse root zones and soil function. New soil health testing tools, such as the Haney test, help farmers measure the results of their actions. “Don’t forget your most valuable measuring tool, the shovel,” he said. “The plant and the soil are one. If I had to do my education all over again, I’d intern with Steve Groff and Klaas Martens. They are the real rock (soil) stars!”
Cover crop practitioner, Steve Groff brought his vast 35-year experience to inspire folks to take a new look at a systems approach to using soil and yield-building companion plants. “Cover crops aren’t easy. It’s about rearranging the picture and learning that timing is everything,” said Groff. “Treat your cover crops like your cash field crop.”
He explained his strategies for increasing corn yields, costs to implement and the ideas behind no-till planting cover crop cocktail mixes that include his widely acclaimed, tillage radish. “You gotta be a student of the soil to figure out what combinations will work for you. When it comes to planting mixtures, one plus one equals three, as the plant populations synergize each other,” said Steve. “Mixing technology and biology in the 21st century is the key on why I love cover crops.”
Blue Hill Restaurant Chef Dan Barber’s favorite organic grain farmer, Klaas Martens took attendees on a story-filled adventure on what has happened over the years on his 1,400 acres of organic field and processing-vegetable crops. The 2008 SARE Patrick Madden award winner described his no-till planting strategies to build soil health, suppress weeds and grow multi-purpose crops for human, cattle and microbe consumption. “I marvel at the smell of my soil and how that translates into quality, nutrient dense crops. We really need to realize there is a lot of excitement underground with the diverse root systems,” said Martens.
The day of learning left everyone fulfilled to take on the opportunities of no-till farming, planting cover crops and building soil wealth. The program was partially funded by T.A. Seeds, an independently owned company offering the finest hybrid corn, soybeans, cover crops, alfalfa, and forage grasses for farms in the eastern United States.
For more information contact PASA at 814-349-9856 or at email@example.com .